Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sister's hoarding is a sign of mental disorder

Dear Counselor: I'm writing because I believe that my sister has a serious emotional problem that has never been dealt with by the family.

She is 39 years old, works at a grocery store, and lives alone in a townhouse. She doesn't date and has only one friend that she mostly talks to via telephone or e-mail.

My sister has not allowed anyone into her home for more than two years until last week when she was ill and needed me to deliver medicine. When I entered her home, I was mortified. Junk, clutter and newspapers everywhere! I could barely walk through the piles of empty cereal boxes and coffee cans in the hallways.

The kitchen table, chairs and counters were overrun with empty food containers that she claims she is keeping for future use. There was no place to sit in any room of the house. She sleeps on the edge of a queen size bed that is covered with mounds of old clothes that she buys at Goodwill and never wears. It's crazy!

I thought it was strange that when my sister was in grade school, her bedroom was filled with silly collections of gum wrappers, old shoe boxes and empty pop cans. Our parents were always yelling at her to get rid of this stuff, but it would just keep accumulating over and over again.

I'm stunned and afraid for my sister's mental health. I told her I would help her clean up everything, but she insisted that she needed it all. I've heard about people who have this kind of problem. What can I do to help her?

Signed, Shocked Sis

Dear Shocked Sis: Your sister exhibits signs of an Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding Disorder or OCHD. The two main features of this disorder are: the excessive collection of items that have little or no value and extreme anxiety and difficulty in discarding this accumulation...." More